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Brewer David Holliday on Norfolk’s world-beating barley: Maris Otter
As I drive around North Norfolk it’s that time of year when the lush green barley gently swaying in the summer breeze develops a golden hue as it gets ready for harvest. It’s then when the magic begins and the barley starts on its journey from plant to pint.
This iconic crop is for me the key ingredient of beer!
I make no apologies for featuring this again. I appreciate that I have covered it before, however, the Maris Otter variety of barley is truly a Norfolk success story famed all over the world, yet sadly often an unsung hero on its own doorstep. Come on Norfolk, let’s shout about this superstar!
So, just why do I ask you to stop and take in what makes Maris Otter so special rather than whizzing by in the car? Yes, it looks fab and the patchwork of golden fields create a beautiful and unmistakable Norfolk landscape. However, that’s just the start.
You see this variety will celebrate its 56th harvest this year and has stood the test of time, while other varieties come and go, usually in a six or seven year cycle as they are replaced by something which offers higher yields, lower cost, faster growth or a combination of all three all in the name of progress.
Yet as far as Maris Otter is concerned, you can keep that so called ‘progress’ – this champion of malts has stood the test of time simply because craft brewers, like team Moon Gazer, demand the flavour and quality it brings to beer, and the consistency it gives to the brew. It is the choice of brewers all over the world, and is exported to brewing fans in more than 20 countries.
Brewers globally demand a bit of Norfolk’s finest!
I feel genuine pride in the fact that across the world, and in hundreds of UK based breweries, Norfolk is at the forefront of their minds when it comes to quality and that the labours of the farmers and maltsters who create a product which will be shipped thousands of miles with the name Norfolk emblazoned on it because of its natural quality. In this throwaway society it’s nice to know quality matters and Norfolk matters.
So, that got us thinking about how we can produce a Moon Gazer ale to best showcase this champion malt? I use the word champion advisedly as Maris Otter has been the main ingredient in about eight out of 10 of the Champion Beers of Britain in the last 15 years or so.
The Maris backbone provides a great complex, biscuit base to all of our beers (even the lagers) but anything too hoppy will see the hops competing for star billing. That got me thinking about a golden mild just using 100% Maris Otter, no other malts and rather than a complex hop addition we will simply wave some hops in the beer’s general direction – enough to provide some gentle bitterness and subtle flavours, but what will dominate is a rich maltiness.
We have done this before, about five years ago, and I loved the results. However, this time I will have even more courage (aka experience!) to let the Maris Otter do even more of the talking!
We will look to brew this after this year’s harvest and, as it is the 56th harvest, we reckon a 5.6% abv seems appropriate. This will really bring out the maltiness and quality. But, keep an eye out for updates and the beer making its debut.
In the meantime, when you see the barley in the fields, or the combine harvesters bringing in this year’s bounty, then take a moment to have a little bit of pride in Norfolk.